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Last month, World Food Program USA reported that in 2022, for the third consecutive year, “the U.S. shipped over 1 million tons of wheat to global hunger relief efforts. The 1 millionth ton of wheat was loaded aboard the African Halycon cargo vessel and left Washington state on Saturday, November 26.”

As that shipment of donated U.S. soft white (SW) arrives in Yemen this month, USAID has issued two new food aid tenders for about 170,000 metric tons of U.S. hard red winter (HRW) to be donated to Ethiopia.

Six Years of Drought

“Years of drought in the Horn of Africa has created a serious food insecurity situation in Ethiopia and other countries,” said Peter Laudeman, Director of Trade Policy with U.S. Wheat Associates (USW). “The donated wheat will be distributed to local flour mills then to the Ethiopian people.”

A large portion of U.S. food aid is managed by USAID’s Food for Peace office primarily as emergency food assistance. USAID purchases U.S commodities at market price and donates them to meet the immediate nutritional needs of those facing hunger. In other cases, USAID will purchase and donate local or regionally grown commodities or provide market-based food vouchers and cash.

Right Food at the Right Time

The type of assistance varies based on local circumstances and needs. More than 541,000 metric tons of HRW wheat was donated to Ethiopia in 2022 and almost 490,000 metric tons of SW was donated to Yemen last year. These two wheat classes best meet the preferences for Ethiopian and Yemeni wheat food products.

Compared to commercial U.S. wheat sales to date in 2022/23, food aid is the fourth largest destination for HRW, the fifth largest destination for SW, and the seventh largest destination for total U.S. wheat sales.”          – USW Market Analyst Tyllor Ledford

U.S. wheat farmers have been partners in U.S. international food assistance programs for more than 60 years and take pride in sharing their harvest with populations that need it most.

“Those of us in the U.S. food and agriculture community talk all the time about feeding the world,” Laudeman said. “I think these humanitarian, international programs really resonate with farmers.”

Ron Suppes on a food aid monitoring visit to Kenya and Tanzania.

“Farmers are unique stakeholders in the international food aid conversation, and we’ve been loyal partners and advocates of these programs since they started. I want to see us continue our trend of excellence in providing food aid to the countries that need it most,” said Kansas wheat farmer and past USW Chairman Ron Suppes (center) in Congressional testimony after visiting Kenya and Tanzania on a trip to monitor U.S. wheat food aid programs in 2017. Mike Shulte (second from right), executive director of the Oklahoma Wheat Commission, also made the trip.

Big Hearts, Abundant Harvests

People in the U.S. have big hearts and genuinely see a need to step up to the plate when there are populations around the world that are experiencing hunger, whether that’s due to drought in Ethiopia or conflict in Yemen, or any of the other countries that the U.S. has sent aid to,” USW Vice President of Policy Dalton Henry told the World Food Program USA in December. These shipments show “the generosity of U.S. farmers, as they produce an abundance of commodities that can be shared around the world,” Henry said.

USW and the Food Aid Working Group, a joint working group between USW and the National Association of Wheat Growers, are proud of the wheat provided through these food aid programs and believe that commodity donation is an effective portion of the whole effort.

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As U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) President Vince Peterson often says, at any given hour of the day someone, somewhere, is talking about the quality, reliability and value of U.S. wheat. Wheat Letter wants to share just some of the ways USW has been working recently to build a preference for U.S. wheat in an ever more complex world wheat market.

Lauding Nutritious, Delicious U.S. Baking Ingredients in China

USW Beijing participated in the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) “Discover U.S. Baking Ingredients and Trends” hybrid virtual promotion in August 2022 (activity banner in the photo above). The purpose of this activity was to raise Chinese bakers’ awareness of the nutrition, health benefits, taste, and versatility of U.S. baking ingredients. The FAS Agricultural Trade Office (ATO) in Beijing and 10 USDA Cooperators with products ranging from wheat, dried fruit and nuts to dairy sponsored the activity partnering with the China Association of Bakery and Confectionery Industry.

USW Beijing staff with ATO Beijing at a U.S. Baking Ingredients event.

In-store promotion product 2 using U.S. dried blueberry and California almond slices and U.S. wheat flour

In-store promotion products using U.S. dried blueberry and California almond slices and U.S. wheat flour.

ATO Beijing reported the activity reached an audience of over 2.5 million netizens in China through social media platforms and

over 200,000 real-time viewers through livestreaming. There was also in-store promotions at leading bakery houses in Beijing where “consumers warmly welcomed the new products featuring U.S. baking ingredients,” ATO Beijing reported. Additionally, ATO Beijing strengthened connections with baking associations and businesses and generated trade leads with this activity. Read more here.

USW Beijing Technical Specialist Ting Liu and Marketing Specialist Kaiwen Wu played direct roles representing the essential quality of flour from U.S. wheat in the events. In the three full marketing years since the trade war ended, China has imported a total of more than 168 million bushels (4.58 million metric tons) of U.S. hard red winter (HRW), hard red spring (HRS), soft white (SW) and soft red winter (SRW) wheat, and have already imported almost 23 million bushels of U.S. wheat in the current marketing year that ends May 31, 2023.

Helping a Mexican Baker Expand Sales

In a technical support activity demonstrating to Mexican bakers how to extend their product lines using U.S. wheat flour, USW Mexico City enlisted Baking

U.S. Wheat consultant Didier Rosada

Didier Rosada

Consultant Didier Rosada to conduct an in-depth, multi-day workshop for one of the top three baking groups in Mexico. The commercial baker selected their best 25 master bakers to learn how to produce internationally recognized sourdough, functional breads, and savory breads for retail bakery sales. Rosada also demonstrated how to standardize pre-fermentation and natural sourdough processes to optimize production efficiency, products consistency, and quality in every store.

Baking is changing in a good way,” Rosada said. “At my bakery, my process is as natural as possible, with long fermentation time, like it used to be done, to bring back the flavor profile of a good bread, its shelf life and texture, etc. And U.S. wheat classes are perfect for that. I am using a flour that is almost 100 percent hard red winter or sometimes combined with hard red spring wheat.”

Mexico is the leading importer of U.S. wheat in the world.

Healthier Wheat Foods for Older Taiwanese Consumers

Chinese wheat foods seminar

Well-known Taiwanese chefs demonstrated healthy Chinese wheat food products .

USW Taipei collaborated with the Department of Food and Beverage Management of Shih Chien University (USC) to conduct workshops on Chinese Wheat Food for the Elderly in October 2022. Chinese wheat foods are popular but a survey by the university indicated that more than 60% of elderly Taiwanese are not satisfied with the healthiness of the products.

USW Taipei Country Director Boyuan Chen and Technologist Wei-lin Chou invited well-known Taiwanese chefs to teach methods for making healthy handmade noodles, pan-fried stuffed buns, silk thread rolls, and pan-fried sweet potato pastry as well as steamed breads using U.S. wheat white flour and whole wheat flour. The 40 participants included teachers, students, and long-term elderly care community volunteers who made pan-fried stuffed buns for the elderly just after the workshop.

U.S. wheat imports by Taiwan have averaged 43.2 million bushels (1.18 million metric tons) of HRS, HRW and SW per year since 2017/18.

Continuing Milling Education Interrupted by COVID in Korea

USW Seoul had started to educate Food Technology undergraduate students at Won Kwang University about the fundamentals of U.S. wheat and flour milling technology in 2018. USW Seoul Food/Bakery Technologist Shin Hak (David) Oh resumed that effort this year. The goal is to give these future industry professionals a better understanding of why flour products from U.S. wheat make superior quality ingredients for Korean wheat foods. The early exposure to U.S. wheat and the value-added technical support from USW also builds future productive relationships.

On average the past five marketing years, South Korean millers have imported about 56.7 million bushels (1.54 million metric tons) of U.S. HRW, HRS, SW and SRW wheat per year.

USW Baking Technogist Shin Hak Oh lecturing to Korean food industry students on U.S. wheat and milling technology

USW Baking Technogist Shin Hak Oh lecturing to Korean food industry students on U.S. wheat and milling technology

U.S. Soft Wheat Best for Cookies, Cakes

USW Cape Town sent six participants from a large South African food company to a specialty soft wheat flour course at the Wheat Marketing Center in Portland, Ore., earlier in 2022. The course focused on cookies, crackers, and cakes made with flour from SRW and SW compared to flour from local and imported hard wheat that is used in South Africa. The participants also visited local grocery stores to gain insight into the many, varied U.S. products made from soft wheat flours.

USW Cape Town Regional Director Chad Weigand accompanied the food industry professionals to the course. He said participants were very impressed with the course results and comparative product quality, and he expected the company to begin testing products made with U.S. soft wheat flour.

Read more here about the South African wheat market.

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The return to more normal growing conditions for the 2022/23 Pacific Northwest (PNW) U.S. soft white (SW) wheat crop offers typically performance in producing the world’s finest cakes, pastries, biscuits and snack foods.

Compared to the drought stressed 2021/22 crop, soft white this year has very weak to medium gluten strength and good finished product characteristics. Higher protein SW supplies provide opportunities in flour blends for crackers, Asian noodles, steamed breads, flat breads and pan breads. The SW subclass Club wheat, with very weak gluten strength, is typically exported as the subclass Western White, defined as a blend of more than 10% Club with SW, for cakes and delicate pastries.

The following composite results come from analysis and testing of 457 SW (404) and Club (53) samples from elevators in Washington, Oregon and Idaho by the Wheat Marketing Center, Portland, Ore. The Federal Grain Inspection Service graded and tested wheat protein content.

U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) encourages buyers to review their quality specifications to ensure purchases meet their expectations.

Map and graphics showing the region and number of soft white samples analyzed for quality in 2022

The Season in Review

In fall 2021, continued drought delayed planting and emergence in the southern PNW. Snow and normal to below normal temperatures returned to improve conditions for the SW winter crop. Much needed moisture in April and May helped the winter and spring SW crops. Rains and cool temperatures during heading and grain filling were beneficial but delayed harvest by up to 2 weeks.

Estimated 2022 SW production is 6.9 million metric tons (MMT), a 46% increase from last year’s 4.8 MMT drought-stressed crop, and similar to the 5-year average of 6.5 MMT.

2022 Crop Highlights

  • The overall average grade of the SW and Club crop is U.S. No. 1.
  • Test weight SW averages range from 60.7 to 61.4 lb/bu (79.8 to 80.7 kg/hl) with an average of 61.0 lb/bu (80.2 kg/hl); Club averages 60.6 lb/bu (79.8 kg/hl).
  • Protein (12% mb) ranges from 8.1 to 11.5% for SW, with a weighted average of 9.5%. Club averages 10.1%.
  • Moisture ranges from 8.8 to 9.1% for SW with a weighted average of 8.9%. Club averages 7.8%.
  • Falling number average is 340 sec or higher for all SW composites and 356 sec for Club.

Flour and Dough Data

  • Wet gluten SW flour contents range from 13.1 to 31.1% depending on flour protein content. Club averages 14.5%.
  • Solvent retention capacity SW lactic acid values range 78 to 102%, indicating very weak to medium gluten strength. SW water SRC values range from 54 to 58%. Lactic acid and water SRC values for Club are 71% and 55%, respectively, and indicate very weak gluten with low water holding capacity.
  • Amylograph SW amylograph peak viscosities are between 576 and 607 BU for all composites. Club’s average amylograph peak viscosity is 580 BU. 
  • Farinograph SW water absorptions range from 50.0% to 52.8% with stability times of 1.1 to 3.2 min, showing desirably weak dough characteristics. The low farinograph water absorptions are typical for SW and in line with the water SRC values. Average Club farinograph water absorption is 50.0% with a stability of 1.1 min, showing very weak dough characteristics typical for Club.
  • Extensograph SW data at 45 min show maximum resistance in the range of 211 to 250 BU, extensibility of 13.5 to 17.1 cm and area from 47 to 51 cm2. Club extensograph 45 min maximum resistance, extensibility, and area are 115 BU, 15.3 cm, and 26 cm2, respectively.
  • Alveograph SW ranges include P values of 38 to 41 mm; L values from 61 to 90 mm; and W values of 71 to 91 (10-4 J). Average Club alveograph P, L and W values are 25 mm, 49 mm, and 33 (10-4 J), respectively.
Composite photo of soft white wheat testing processes at the Wheat Marketing Center.

Soft White Testing. The Wheat Marketing Center (WMC) supports the annual effort to evaluate new crop quality. Samples are collected and sent to WMC for testing. In 2022, the WMC tested 404 soft white samples and 53 Club samples. Photo by the Wheat Marketing Center.

Bake Test Data

  • Sponge cake SW volumes range from 1101 to 1157 cc, depending on protein content, with a weighted average of 1137 cc. Total sponge cake scores are 54 to 60 with a weighted average of 59. Club sponge cake volume is 1150 cc with a total score of 56. Some scores exceeded the control (a commercial Japanese cake flour from the 2021 crop) this year due to softer textures.
  • Average Cookie soft white diameters are 8.2 to 8.3 cm with spread factors of 7.9 to 8.7. Club diameter and spread factor are 8.7 cm and 9.8, respectively.
  • Average pan bread bake absorptions are 55.3 to 58.0% with loaf volumes from 605 to 727 cc, depending on protein content. Total scores are 4.0 to 5.0.
  • Chinese southern-type steamed bread specific volumes are 2.2 to 2.6 mL/g with total scores of 64.6 to 70.9. Club specific volume is 2.9 mL/g with a total score of 69.0. Most scores were similar to the control this year due to better specific volume, smoother skin, and whiter external color.

 

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It is planting season for U.S. winter wheat growers. Conditions and timing vary by region, but a lot of the 2023 hard red winter (HRW), soft red winter (SRW) and even fall-seeded soft white (SW) area has already been seeded.

Long before farmers select and clean seed from their last crop or purchase certified seed wheat, researchers and breeders have developed new wheat varieties that meet the highest standards of yield and quality across a wide range of end uses at home and across the world.

Chart showing seasonal U.S. winter wheat and spring wheat planting and harvesting schedule.

U.S. Winter Wheat Planting starts in September and can last into early November depending on conditions. Winter wheat must experience a period of significant cold days to signal reproductive growth, a process called vernalization.

In a greenhouse at the Kansas Wheat Innovation Center in Manhattan, Kansas State University wheat breeder Dr. Allen Fritz talked about starting the process of creating wheat varieties.

Looking Back to the Future

“There are facilities like this around the country where people are working to improve varieties for those different regions,” he said. “They are working on specific market classes have different functionalities to be able to make almost any kind of wheat food product.”

Dr. Fritz added that to do that work, breeders are finding new ways to use historic wheat genetics to improve wheat quality and production.

“In some projects, we are reaching back into wild relatives and bringing some of those characteristics to bring healthy, nutritious food to the table and I think [breeders] have a passion to bring that forward.”

Naturally Stronger Gluten

At Oklahoma State University, Wheat Genetics Chair Brett Carver and his colleagues are developing new hard red winter wheat varieties that have better gluten strength to produce higher quality bread products while keeping yields and disease resistance high. With naturally developed dough strength, such new varieties may not need additional gluten, adding value to the U.S. wheat and flour produced from it.

“Simply stated, a truly unique combination of wheat quality in a high-performance wheat variety provides value-capturing opportunities to farmers, millers and bakers,” Dr. Carver recently told the High Plains Journal. “It is important that the genetics are maintained and delivered throughout the supply chain in its purest form. Then consumers will see value through a cleaner label on various wheat food products.”

Planting Stories

Image from inside a tractor of a dry Montana field in which Denise Conover is seeding winter wheat

This is Denise Conover’s “office” as she seeded hard red winter wheat on her family farm near Broadview, Montana, late in September 2022.

After years of testing and perfecting U.S. winter wheat seeds, planting looks different for every family farm depending on the region, the soil, the wheat class. In the arid conditions in north-central Oregon, for example, each field lies fallow for a year to improve moisture and add organic matter to the soil.

“Then in the fall, at the end of September to the first part of October, we start seeding,” said Logan Padget, a SW wheat grower in Grass Valley, Ore. “We put down our seed and fertilizer together in one pass, one right underneath the other so as soon as that seed starts to grow, it puts roots down, finds the fertilizer and just takes off.”

Near Okarche, Okla., HRW grower and U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) Secretary-Treasurer Michael Peters is seeing very dry conditions for planting. When the time is right, Peters said everything will be done to start the new crop.

Doing What It Takes

“We will start as early as we can in the morning, go late into night,” he said. “Then we may go home at night, and we are loading seed wheat for the next day or adjusting the planter, just to get it into the ground.”

Kyler Millershaski, a young farmer from Lakin, Kan., is fully committed to the work and challenge of growing another hard white and hard red winter wheat crop.

“I would say there is certainly a responsibility and a weight that you feel to not only provide a high-quality product, but enough of it to feed the world. That is why we are really selective in our varieties and make sure the crop has the right fertilizer and nutrients to grow and perform well. That way,” he said with a smile, “we can say we have the best wheat in the world – so buy from us.”

 

 

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A dramatic increase in demand for oilseeds could impact U.S. wheat production in coming years, with significantly more acres expected to be planted in soybeans destined for new and expanded crushing facilities.

Between 20 million and 25 million additional acres of soybeans will be needed to meet requirements of the renewable diesel industry, some analysts are predicting.

At the same time, global demand for wheat is also expected to rise, setting up dynamic competition for acreage in states where both crops are grown. For the U.S. wheat industry, the situation creates important questions: How much wheat acreage could potentially be lost to soybeans? Will lost acres impact the U.S.’ standing as the world’s most dependable wheat supplier? Can wheat and soybeans co-exist in a competitive environment?

This chart shows acreage planted in soybeans and wheat in 2022 in the country's top 10 soybean states, according to USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service.

This chart shows total acreage planted in soybeans and total acreage planted in wheat in the country’s top 10 soybean states in 2022, according to USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS).

Where possible, farmers may adapt and double-crop more wheat and soybeans to maintain supplies of both crops. It is already a common practice in top soybean states like Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, where soft red winter wheat is the dominant class. But in soybean states that produce hard red winter and hard red spring wheat – Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota and North Dakota, for example – allotting acreage is more complicated due to average rainfall and shorter growing seasons.

The ultimate question is if U.S. farmers will be able to meet the demand for both wheat and soybeans by doing what they have always done – figure out a way to do more with less.

Many Options, Limited Acres

Mike Krueger, a grain industry consultant with Lida Communications, put a spotlight on the emerging “competition for acreage” during last month’s U.S. Wheat Associates World Staff Conference.

While describing volatility in global wheat and grain markets due uncertain market conditions, Krueger noted a more predictable factor that will affect markets and decisions made by U.S farmers.

“Renewable diesel is projected to increase eight-fold by 2030 and significant investments of more than $2 billion are being put into new and expanded soybean processing plants in the U.S. right now,” Krueger explained. “The U.S. soybean crush will expand by 10%, or more. We are talking vast numbers, and while sunflower and canola should be big beneficiaries of renewable diesel, soybeans are certainly going to be in even higher demand.”

A boost of 20 million acres would catapult soybean and go a long way toward meeting the projected oilseeds demand.

But at what cost?

The U.S. has consistently ranked as one of the top five wheat producing countries in the world and one of the top three wheat exporting countries. Would a major shift in acreage affect U.S. production, thus its place as a supplier?

“We must remember there’s also a global demand for wheat, as well as corn, and we have to consider ongoing drought and weather patterns, not to mention political conflicts that are impacting grain production and supplies all over the world,” Krueger said. “All of this, all the things going on that affect global trade, will put major emphasis on overall crop production in the U.S. and the entire Northern Hemisphere. To be honest, no crop can afford to give up or lose acres.”

Can Double-cropping Help?

Higher prices caused by global demand for wheat and soybeans appears to be motivating more farmers in the Midwest to consider seeding soft red winter wheat in the fall and soybeans in the same field following wheat harvest.

About 40% of producers responding to a Purdue University Ag Economy Barometer survey in June indicated they have utilized a wheat and soybean double-crop rotation in the past. About 28% of those producers planned to increase the amount of cropland devoted to this rotation by seeding more wheat this fall followed by soybean plantings on the same acres in spring 2023.

Some analysts have predicted that renewable diesel demand in coming years will require the planting of at least 20 million additional acres of soybeans. This chart from USDA shows soybean acreage over the past decade.

Some analysts have predicted that renewable diesel demand in coming years will require the planting of at least 20 million additional acres of soybeans. This chart from USDA shows soybean acreage and harvest over the past decade.

Ultimately, the biggest factor behind whether farmers begin growing an extra crop of wheat is what price they can get for the crop.

“The shift toward increasing soft red winter wheat acreage is likely the result of the expected profitability improvement of the wheat and double-crop soybean rotation,” James Mintert and Michael Langemeier, authors of the Purdue survey, noted.

A move by the federal government earlier this year to increase the number of counties eligible for double-cropping insurance was a move aimed at boosting U.S. production of wheat and soybeans by reducing the risk for farmers who decide to take the double-crop route.

Producers are well-aware that there are drawbacks to double-cropping wheat and soybeans.

“Compared to single-crop soybeans, double-crop soybeans have a shorter growing season due to the delay in planting until the wheat is harvested, which often result in reduced yields,” said Scott Gerlt, Chief Economist for the American Soybean Association (ASA). “Despite this drawback, double-cropping does allow increased production.”

Wheat Demand to Grow

Despite questions about acreage and production, U.S. wheat continues to be in demand by international customers because of its consistent quality and reliability.

Krueger expects the demand will continue to expand.

“A primary reason is that global wheat supplies are likely to shrink due to a renewed focus on soybeans, and to a lesser extent, corn,” Krueger said. “Another factor favoring U.S. producers involves shipping and logistics limitations that hamper competing wheat-growing countries, including Russia and Ukraine.”

Effects from a third consecutive La Nina would further pressure global supplies.

“These things will undoubtedly lead to more export demand for wheat,” Krueger said. “Can the U.S. meet the demand? That is the puzzle that’s still being put together. Farmers make decisions every single planting season. They only have so many acres to work with.”

 

 

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In 2021, the U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) team in Beijing asked then-Chairman and Oregon wheat farmer Darren Padget to record a video message to Chinese milling and trading managers participating in a USW-sponsored “Contracting for Wheat Value” seminar.

The USW team wanted to show customers the important things U.S. farmers do every day to produce more and better wheat with less impact on the environment. Chairman Padget took the challenge to heart and spent an entire spring day walking the Chinese team through his operation to tell his farm’s sustainability story.

USW is sharing that story here with a wider audience that is increasing interested in learning more about sustainable food production.

Better Soil 

Joined by his son Logan and his father Dale — partners in Padget Ranches — Darren talked in his video presentation about the effort to improve the soil in which they grow high quality soft white wheat.

“From when my father came to farm … things have changed quite drastically,” Darren said. “Taking care of the land and making sure it is sustainable is very important  to us as we move forward. We used to till the soil heavily with a moldboard plow … it took a lot of time, a lot of fuel, and a lot of resources. Now, we do ‘direct seeding,’ which means the stubble in the field stays intact, which builds our soil organic matter and is less susceptible to erosion. It has been a big change. We have adopted the technology, and it seems to be the best answer to make sure this farm is here for many generations to come.”

Image shows Darren Padget bending down to drink from a garden hose on his farm

Clean Drinking Water. In the “A Visit to Padget Ranches in Oregon” Darren Padget said his family’s drinking water comes from a well on the farm, a personal reason why they are very cautious about crop protection applications.

Logan Padget is the fifth generation of his family to farm in this dry north-central Oregon region just south of the Columbia River. He has embraced precision agricultural technology. In the video, he talks about the efficiency of the farm’s crop protection product application equipment.

Precision Applications

“This machine is almost as late and great as you can get on technology,” Logan said. “It is GPS-controlled. Once I make the first pass on a field, the GPS can perfectly mimic that line across the field with just one-third of a meter of overlap. That is better than anybody could drive by hand. There’s also section control through the GPS, so if you’re coming across at an angle, each section will shut off to avoid double spraying, which saves us money. It also means fewer chemicals applied to the crop. It’s just a win-win all the way around.”

Better Quality Wheat

Darren also described how farmers are reaching beyond their own fields to help improve the functional quality of the milling wheat they grow for overseas and domestic consumption. He showed a “Preferred Variety List” that ranks public and commercial wheat varieties by desirability of quality characteristics based on three years of data. The list is developed by the state wheat commissions in Oregon, Washington and Idaho, which are directed by farmers who fund commission activities (including membership in USW).

Image shows the front and back of the 2021 Preferred Variety List for PNW wheat

Ranked by Quality. The Pacific Northwest Preferred Variety List encourages functional quality improvement for overseas and domestic millers and food processors. The description of the list states: “When making a decision between varieties with similar agronomic characteristics and grain yield potential, choose the variety with the higher quality ranking. This will help to increase the overall quality and desirability of Pacific Northwest (PNW) wheat.”

We invite you to view the entire video below.

Image shows the opening scene from a video featuring Darren Padget

https://vimeo.com/578611568

 

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On behalf of the U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) Transportation Working Group, we* appreciate the opportunity to provide comments on the draft Lower Snake River Dams Benefit Replacement Report.

The draft report raises serious concerns among U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) and its member states. The USW Transportation Working Group (TWG) questions many of the baseline assumptions argued in the draft report. The draft is incomplete because many of the key variables cannot be quantified. The Lower Snake River Dams (LSRD) provide a critical need that moves U.S.-grown wheat to high-value markets around the world. Breaching the dams would have serious economic consequences for producers and grain handlers. Removing the dams also runs counter to achieving climate-friendly goals.

Barging Benefits

USW strongly supports the sustainability and reliability of wheat transportation by barge. The Columbia Snake River System is an essential part of a logistical web that moves over half of all U.S. wheat exports to more than 20 Pacific Rim countries and encompasses some of the largest U.S. wheat buyers in the world. The Snake River moves more than 10% of all wheat that is exported from the United States. Because of the cost savings conveyed by barging grain and examples used in the draft report, we can conclude that farmers save considerably by using the waterway in place of rail or truck and are able to pass on savings to consumers.

Barge loading wheat to move through Lower Snake River Dams and down the Columbia River to export elevators.

The Lower Snake River Dams provide critical needs for wheat farmers, grain handlers, merchandisers, and millers. The draft report clearly outlines the benefits enjoyed by grain handlers, “barging is the lowest-cost option (per ton-mile) for wheat shipping, an additional benefit for Pacific Northwest producers, as they operate on narrow cost margins and use barging to maximize their profit per bushel.” Shifting the current volume of wheat and other grains moving via barge on the LSRD over to rail or truck is not a viable and straightforward solution as portions of the draft study imply. Rail and truck cost significantly more on a per bushel basis, and trucks have distance limitations.

Breaching Increases Transportation Costs

An excerpt from the draft report outlines the literal costs to farmers: “One of the most significant transportation impacts connected with LSRD breaching is shipping costs. Several studies cite shipping prices during scheduled lock outages for maintenance between December 2010 and March 2011 and found that during the outage, over 90% of the grain by volume was shipped by rail and that shippers experienced a nearly 40% increase in shipping and storage costs.” This example shows that railroads will use their power to raise rates when other alternatives, like the river system, are unavailable.

The Port of Lewiston is the most inland port in the U.S, Pacific Northwest. Its placement on the Snake River allows farmers in Idaho and other states to barge their wheat efficiently and affordably. The U.S. competes with six other primary wheat-exporting countries. According to the Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS), the United States is the third-largest wheat exporter in the world. However, for the U.S. to remain competitive with other wheat exporting nations, export prices must remain competitive. Inland transportation costs are a primary factor in determining the competitiveness of U.S. wheat. Using barges to ship grain is one of the most efficient and cost-effective ways that U.S. wheat farmers stay competitive.

Rail Cannot Make Up Difference

All wheat production zones in the U.S. would be impacted, not just those in close proximity to the Lower Snake River Dams system. The U.S. rail system has some severe issues with service and reliability, and in recent years, tariff costs to move wheat have steadily increased. Adding more volume to the system would raise costs for all farmers and lead to a decline in service for a significant portion of all U.S. wheat producers. This would directly impact U.S. wheat’s global competitiveness as an export market.

Transporting wheat by barge is an environmentally friendly alternative to rail and truck hauling. One four-barge tow can move as much grain as 144 rail cars or 538 semi-trucks. Removing the dams would not only remove clean hydroelectricity but would mandate more significant carbon emissions as grain handlers are forced to rely on railroads and semi-trucks for long-haul delivery to export facilities in Portland and elsewhere.

Map of the Columbia Snake River System from Pacific Northwest Waterways Association

Eight Steps Down. Lock and dam systems on the Columbia Snake River System allow barges to efficiently and safely navigate the 222-meter elevation change from Lewiston, Idaho, to export elevators as far west as Longview, Wash.

More Competition Not Less

The draft report provides no sincere considerations for alternative freight, and what suggestions it does make are unrealistic. While railroads and trucks compete with barge companies to move grain, farmers and grain handlers would be held captive without barges as an alternative.

USW supports the Columbia Snake River System and will continue to emphasize its importance in serving wheat buyers worldwide. Breaching of the dams on the Lower Snake River would have a devastating economic impact on wheat production and market competitiveness, not just in the Pacific Northwest Region, but nationally.

*This article represents public comments by the USW Transportation Working Group to the Lower Snake River Dams Benefit Replacement Report submitted July 11, 2022, by working group co-chairs Jim Peterson, Policy and Marketing Director, North Dakota Wheat Commission, and Charlie Vogel, Executive Director, Minnesota Wheat Research & Promotion Council.

 

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Analysis of the wheat market since February has been underscored by volatility, and no less so for the U.S. soft white (SW) wheat market.

The sudden exit of Ukraine from the export market and the uncertainty of Russia’s wheat exports are recent factors in market volatility. Dry weather is another important consideration for winter wheat markets.

The most recent USDA crop progress report rated 27% of the entire U.S. winter wheat crop as good or excellent, a 3-point drop from last week and the lowest level since 1989 for this time of year. The report encompasses all winter wheat, including SW grown in the Pacific Northwest (PNW). And with summer fast approaching, it is a good time to look at the underlying factors for the 2022 U.S. SW crop.

Conditions Improved

The PNW wheat-growing region remains in some form of drought. Yet crop conditions there are considerably better than in the Plains. Following significantly more winter moisture, spring weather has also returned to normal, with rain and mild temperatures reported in Washington’s Palouse region and north-central Oregon.

Idaho wheat conditions are rated 56% good or excellent. Oregon’s conditions rate 55% good or excellent, and Washington state, the leading SW producer, with 52% of the crop rated good or excellent.

Kernels of soft white wheat

Better moisture gave the 2022 U.S. soft white wheat crop an initial boost. If conditions hold, there will be better yields and quality compared to the 2021 crop. Soft white wheat kernel photo by U.S. Wheat Associates. 

Better Than 2021

Last year, persistent hot and dry weather hit the PNW, impacting both yield and protein content for soft white wheat. According to the U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) Crop Quality Report, the average soft white protein on a 12% moisture basis in 2021 was 11.3%, 15% higher than in 2020 and 16% above the 5-year average. Production was down 28% compared to the 5-year average. In Washington, the leading SW producer, yields were slashed 47% compared to 2020/21.

Ending stocks are especially tight, with the USDA estimating a 26% decline compared to last year. The relatively high cost of the smaller white wheat crop and week-to-week price volatility has translated to reduced SW export volume this year. USDA’s April supply and demand estimate reduced exports by 46%, and the latest USW Commercial Sales report showed soft white exports 50% lower year-to-date at 3.33 MMT.

Planted Area Up

However, USDA expects SW area planted for harvest in 2022 to be 3.56 million acres (1.44 million hectares), up 2% compared to last year. That is good news for SW wheat millers. Production potential and farmer revenue from SW is complicated by higher input costs like fertilizer, and the volatile futures market make it difficult for farmers to determine their best course of action. Even so, the improved conditions this year should benefit both SW customers and farmers.

New Crop Hope

Oregon SW wheat farmer and current USW Chairman Darren Padget is optimistic about the potential in his SW crop this year. He said this year has been much more normal than last year, with moisture being much more consistent and plentiful in the winter and spring. He said that in his area of the PNW, “we are on track for an average crop.”

Glen Squires, Chief Executive Officer for the Washington Grain Commission, said that spring conditions have been wetter and cooler than last year. He did, however, warn that subsoil moisture is about the same as last year, around 40% short or very short. Overall, Squires noted that they are optimistic that crop quality and yields will rebound from last year.

By USW Market Analyst Michael Anderson

The header photo is courtesy of the Washington Grain Commission.

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In the increasingly competitive global wheat market, it is important to review the advantages that U.S. wheat delivers to millers and bakers. This post examines the advantages that soft white wheat brings to the market.


Soft white (SW) wheat is the fourth largest class of wheat grown in the United States, with an annual average production over the last five years of 7.51 million metric tons (MMT), or about 276 million bushels. Although SW is the fourth largest class measured by production, it is the third-largest if measured by exports, with nearly 80% of its annual production exported. As with hard white (HW) wheat, SW wheat includes winter and spring varieties increasing the protein range and functionality within the class. U.S. SW wheat has a strong export demand in Asian markets. From specialty products such as sponge cakes, Asian noodles, biscuits, and crackers, to blending with hard red spring (HRS) and hard red winter (HRW) wheat for improving bread color, soft white wheat flour has the versatility to improve the quality and appearance of a wide variety of products.

Milling Advantages

U.S. soft white wheat performs very well on the mill. Arriving at the mill with a high 1,000 kernel weight, average moisture of less than 10%, an average test weight of more than 80 hectoliter mass, and a low quantity of screenings, SW wheat provides millers every opportunity for high flour extraction. The high extraction potential produces a whiter flour due to its lighter bran color. The lower wheat moisture allows the miller to temper the wheat to a lower average target moisture, optimizing flour extraction, particle size, and color.

Baking Advantages

The target market for SW is confectionary products, specifically sponge cakes. However, SW also performs well as a blending flour in a wider variety of products such as Asian noodles and steam bread. The lower moisture content of the flour produced creates an advantage for the baker by increasing the amount of water added while optimizing water absorption and product quality for the consumer. The finer particle size will generally increase the water absorption rate, decreasing mix time and improving production efficiencies. With the fine particle size and starch characteristics, SW flour creates a unique and tender texture for many end-use products. Some markets have successfully blended SW wheat flour with HRS wheat and HRW wheat flour to improve crumb color, texture, and even the loaf volume of pan bread.

As with hard white wheat flour, SW flour also delivers a low polyphenol oxidase (PPO) content. PPO is an enzyme that can cause dough discoloration. Lower PPO content brightens the appearance of any end product.

Sourcing Opportunities

Soft white wheat is defined by three distinct subclasses; soft white, white club, and western white. The three distinct subclasses allow the customer to purchase white club separately from soft white wheat, permitting the creation of different blends for specific uses. Club wheat is unique in that its ultra-soft weak gluten is not tied to protein content and delivering unique starch and protein characteristics that customers prefer for sponge cakes and other specialty confectionary products.

Standard SW may be purchased with a higher protein content (10.5%) to use in blends with HRS and HRW wheat classes to create products with different colors and textures. An important reminder when purchasing SW wheat: Customers generally specify a maximum protein content (max 9.0, 9.5, or 10.5% protein) for sponge cake and confectionary uses versus a minimum protein content typical in hard wheat contracts.  Low protein SW, less than 9.0%, is generally priced more than higher protein greater than 10.5% depending on the year.

Alternatively, the subclass western white wheat is a blend of not less than 10% club and 90% soft white wheat, which allows the customer to define quality targets and adjust the proportion of SW and Club wheat in the blend according to price and quality expectations.

Yield Down, Protein Up in 2021 Crop

It is important to note that the Pacific Northwest (PNW) drought reduced SW production in 2021/22 by 26% and pushed protein levels higher than average. U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) is helping flour millers learn that testing for Solvent Retention Capacity (SRC) is an effective and valuable method for predicting the true performance characteristics of SW and SW subclass flour products, and additional testing is underway to assess performance in the 2021 crop.

U.S. Wheat Advantages

As we highlight each specific class in this series, let us not forget the advantages that all U.S. wheat classes bring to the market. First, and perhaps the most important, is consistency in quality and supply. Although each new crop year brings different challenges and opportunities, U.S. wheat is always available to the global market. Second, U.S. wheat delivers variety. Wheat is a raw material manufactured into a bakery ingredient, flour. The flour made from each unique class of U.S. wheat brings value to the market in the unique quality characteristics to make a variety of baked goods and noodles. It is also important to understand the value of blending flour from one or more types of wheat to optimize the flour performance at a minimal cost.

Each region, country, and culture have wheat-based food products that are uniquely their own. With six unique wheat classes, the United States has the right wheat class to deliver the optimal quality and value for every variety of product on the market.

Learn more about the six classes of U.S. wheat here or leave a question in our “Ask The Expert” section.

By Mark Fowler, USW Vice President of Global Technical Services


Read more about other U.S. wheat classes in this series.

Hard Red Winter
Hard Red Spring
Hard White
Soft Red Winter
Durum

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It is 3:00 on a brisk and overcast Tuesday afternoon, and the sun is already low in the sky. I am sitting in the galley of a tugboat — state of the art, I am told. The tugboat has all the amenities any crew would need with five staterooms, a kitchen, a washer and dryer, and even a weight room. There is some tension on board, with a hurry-up-and-wait attitude, when the phone finally rings. The deck mechanic answers and the barge we are waiting on is finally loaded with 1,500 metric tons (MT) of soft white wheat. The motor hums to life, and we start moving, slowly, toward the grain elevator. It is growing dark as two grain barges are tethered together, and we begin downriver from Lewiston, Ida., headed to Portland, Ore. It will be a two-and-a-half-day journey first down the Snake River, connecting to the Columbia River and finally to the Willamette River, to reach our Portland export elevator destinations, about 360 miles.

This river, in general, is very handsome, except at the rapid, where it is risking both life and property to pass.” – From the Journal of Sgt. Patrick Gass, a member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

Michael Anderson is picture front, left with the crew of the tugboat crew.

We follow the same route that Lewis and Clark took as the “Corps of Discovery” traveled west. The rivers were different in 1805, untamed by today’s intricate system of dams and locks. The eight dams that we will pass through have made it possible to harness the rivers into a major artery carrying U.S. wheat bound for export from farm to port.

The boat rocks side to side on my first night. It is comfortable, but the unfamiliar feeling makes it hard to settle in. Suddenly the boat lurches, and the light outside gets brighter. The first lock, Lower Granite, comes into view from the deck. Two spotlights illuminate our way as we creep up to the lock. Slowly we approach the brightly lit lock and are guided in along a long concrete wall. The force of the shallow water beneath us is the only thing that keeps the tug and barges moving forward. With inches to spare on either side, we have entered the lock. Behind the boat, a gate rises from underneath the water; it is about three feet above the surface when suddenly the gate stops rising, and our boat starts sinking below the surface. It is a rapid movement, but it continues for a long time. The watermark rises above us as we descend below the surface, protected by thick concrete walls. Finally, we stop moving. We are now 100 feet below the level at which we entered the lock. I walk to the front of the boat just in time to see the gates in front, towering above us, start to open, revealing the river ahead, and slowly we make our way out of the lock and down the river.

As a crew member aboard a tug, your day is not a simple “9-to-5.” With one crew on and one off, the day is broken into shifts of six hours each, from 12 to 6 and 6 to 12. The environment shared by the crew is family-like, cooking meals together and watching TV. Only the person driving the boat, the captain or the pilot, is constantly on watch. The deck mechanics jump into action when the boat enters a lock or when we pick up another barge, and this journey is a four-barge tow, meaning four barges being pushed by one tugboat.

From the bridge, the captain has a sweeping view on all sides, and plenty of sophisticated equipment helps him navigate even when we are surrounded by fog, which in the Pacific Northwest is common. Another lock is just ahead. The boat only moves about nine miles per hour. We fit into the lock with precision, again with just a foot on each side to separate us from the massive concrete walls. Unlike the lock last night, this lock is too short to fit the whole tow in at once, but that is nothing out of the ordinary for this crew. Once the barges are tethered in place, the captain skillfully maneuvers the tugboat like a game of Tetris into a tiny space giving the back of the boat just enough room for the lock keeper to close us in. Again, a large iron gate rises from the water behind us, and like an elevator, we start moving down inch by inch. In front is what looks like a massive garage door. The lock opens, revealing the next stretch of the river ahead.

The mechanics of the lock are simple: we are moving down river with the flow of the water, so when we enter a lock, it is full of water. The lock seals behind us, and a valve is released to allow the water to rush out of the lock. The tow itself is being moved to the same level as the river we are moving down. Once the tow is at the same level as the water outside the lock, the valve is closed, and we wait for the massive concrete door ahead of us to open so the tow can move out. It is a similar procedure for ships going upriver against the flow, but instead of the valve releasing water, the valve fills the lock. It takes about 30 minutes to pass through each lock.

The Columbia Snake River System is a superhighway for moving wheat and other agricultural products from farm to market. The barges and rail lines that run on both banks of the Columbia River carry more than 55% of all U.S. wheat bound for export each year. Barges are the most efficient way to move large volumes of grain, making the river system a cost-effective and “green” logistical option. The Army Corps of Engineers maintains the lock system; its history goes back to the 1930s when President Franklin Roosevelt personally inaugurated Bonneville, the first of the eight dams and locks east of Portland.

After about 60 hours on board the tugboat, we arrive in Vancouver, Wash., on the north bank of the Columbia River. We drop off two barges at an export elevator and proceed west again, up the north-flowing Willamette River that bisects Portland. It is my third river in a week, and we are taking the last barge to an export elevator just across the river from the U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) West Coast Office. There is a vessel at berth waiting for the wheat we carry. The crew drops the barge, and me, at the elevator. I walk up a set of metal stairs connected to a hoist and hop off, touching land for the first time since Tuesday. I walk across the river on Portland’s Steel Bridge, under which the wheat from our tow will pass on its way overseas, to my office.A tugboat pushes a grain barges down the Snake River on its way from Lewiston, Idaho to Portland, Ore.

By Michael Anderson, USW Market Analyst

This story was originally published on October 21, 2019.